22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). This question was posed to me as an objection to Christianity by an atheist, and I did not know how to answer it.
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Other passages in the Old Testament that clearly pertain to the coming of the Messiah (including others by the same prophet (Isaiah) who wrote the prophecy cited in the question (Isaiah 7:14)) indicate that the Messiah would be "called" by various "names". For example, Isaiah 9:6 alone said that the Messiah's "name" would be "called" "Wonderful", "Counselor", "The Mighty God", "The Everlasting Father" and "The Prince of Peace". These all pertain to Jesus (as does "Emmanuel", since Jesus was, in fact (as "Emmanuel" means, as noted by Matthew) "God with us"). Obviously, the fact that Jesus could have only one earthly "name" (in the sense in which we normally use the term) means that these other designations are to be understood as titles or descriptions, rather than actual given names. Jesus was never actually addressed by any of these "names" in His earthly life, but they apply to Him, nevertheless. And, in fact, even the actual name given to Jesus by Mary and Joseph was at the direction that the angel Gabriel had provided to Mary (Luke 1:31), and means, "The LORD [the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14] is salvation". This was not a new name, even at that time (since "Jesus" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name "Joshua"), but it applied to Jesus in a unique way that had never before applied (and will never again apply) to anyone else.
Question: "Why wasn't Jesus named Immanuel?" Answer: In the prophecy of the virgin birth, Isaiah 7:14, the prophet Isaiah declares, “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This prophecy had an initial fulfillment during Isaiah’s day, but it ultimately refers to the birth of Jesus, as we see in Matthew 1:22–23: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” This does not mean, however, that the Messiah’s actual given name would be Immanuel. There are many “names” given to Jesus in the Old and New Testaments, and Immanuel is one of them. Isaiah elsewhere prophesied of the Messiah, “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus was never called by any of those “names” by the people He met in Galilee or Judea, but they are accurate descriptions of who He is and what He does. The angel said that Jesus “will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32) and “the Son of God” (verse 35), but neither of those was His given name. The prophet Jeremiah writes of “a King who will reign wisely” (Jeremiah 23:5), and he gives us the name of the coming Messiah: “And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:6, ESV). Jesus was never called “The Lord Our Righteousness” as a name, but we can call Him that! He brings the righteousness of God to us. He is God in the flesh, and the One who makes us righteous (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). George Herman Ruth was named George, of course. But we can call him other things, and we’re talking about the same person: “Babe,” “the Bambino,” “the Sultan of Swat,” or “the Colossus of Clout.” The names for Babe Ruth multiplied due to his personal history and his signature talent on the ballfield. In a similar way, we can call Jesus by His given name, but we can also call Him “Immanuel.” Or “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” “Prince of Peace,” or “The Lord Our Righteousness.” The names of Jesus Christ multiply due to His divine nature and miraculous work. To say that Jesus would be called “Immanuel” means Jesus is God and that He dwelt among us in His incarnation and that He is always with us. Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus was God making His dwelling among us (John 1:1, 14). God keeps His promises. The virgin Mary bore a son. Two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem, we see that baby born and lowered into the hay for a resting place. That baby, as incredible as it seems, is God. That Baby is God with us. Jesus, as our Immanuel, is omnipotence, omniscience, perfection, and the love that never fails—with us. No, Joseph did not name Jesus “Immanuel,” but Jesus’ nature makes Him truly Immanuel, “God with us.” Isaiah told us to watch for Immanuel, the virgin-born Son of God. He will save us; He will reconcile people to God and restore creation to its original beauty. We know Him as Jesus, but we can also call Him “God with us,” because that’s exactly who He is. --S. Michael Houdmann
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